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Queen Elizabeth I

Study Questions

Elizabeth's Last Years

Review Test

How did Elizabeth's youth give shape to her reign?

Young Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, beheaded her mother, Ann Boleyn, as well as his succeeding wives, the fifth of whom, Catherine Howard, Elizabeth had loved especially; these executions made Elizabeth cautious and wary about marriage. Periods of material deprivation (at least by a princesses' standards) developed her economic sense, and she later would be very frugal, even stingy. Overall, the dangers she faced as a young girl and in her teens made her prudent--though her reluctance to take decisive action caused problems at times.

What were Elizabeth's religious attitudes?

Although a religious Protestant, Elizabeth was no fanatic. Her primary concern was not to force adherence to a single religion, but simply to smooth over divisions in her realm; she considered the disputed issues between Catholics and Protestants to be "mere trifles" in the grand scheme of things. She knew that it was in her political interest to appeal to the Protestant majority, and acted accordingly; yet, nonetheless, her treatment of Catholics was relatively mild by the standards of the Reformation Era.

Why didn't Elizabeth ever marry?

Since her father, Henry VIII, had had several wives beheaded (including her own mother), Elizabeth had an understandable distaste for marriage. Furthermore, she loved getting presents, and getting married would have ended the constant stream of gifts she received from her suitors. However, most importantly, she liked to use her unmarried status as a negotiating tool: with everyone in Europe courting her and hoping to take England through marriage, they would be less likely to plan an invasion against the nation.

Why did some people think Mary Queen of Scots had a stronger claim to the throne of England than did Elizabeth?

Henry VIII had married Elizabeth's mother, Ann Boleyn, while still technically married to his first wife, the Catholic Catherine of Aragon, as the pope at the time delayed in performing the requested annulment. Moreover, Elizabeth had been conceived prior even to this unlawful marriage. Thus Catholics considered Elizabeth an illegitimate child of Henry. Yet despite this, the majority of English Catholics remained loyal to their queen.

Was the title "Virgin Queen" an accurate description of Elizabeth?

Probably not. Although she never married, she seems to have had several lovers. The most famous was Robert Dudley (named the Earl of Leicester in 1564). This passionate relationship created a huge international scandal, and when Dudley died in 1588, Elizabeth locked herself in her room for a lengthy period.

Discuss Elizabeth's advisors.

Elizabeth chose her advisors well; they were generally very able men. Her two most important advisors were William Cecil (Lord Burleigh) and Francis Walsingham. Burleigh was prudent, but always pushed Elizabeth towards taking decisive action. He also was very bothered by Elizabeth's refusal to marry. Walsingham, Burleigh's replacement as Secretary of State, was a fanatical Protestant who maintained a very effective spy network.

What was the typical structure of the Catholic plots against Elizabeth?

There were numerous Catholic plots against Elizabeth, including the Ridolfi Plot, the Duke de Guise Plot, and the Babington Plot. The basic plan usually involved killing Elizabeth, installing Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne, and then bringing Philip II's army (then in the Netherlands) over to England to maintain order while Mary consolidated power.

Why was Elizabeth upset about Mary Queen of Scots' execution?

Although Elizabeth had signed Mary's death warrant, her advisors rushed through the execution within a matter of days, carrying out the actual deed without Elizabeth's knowledge, while usually such an order would take months to take effect. Elizabeth was upset by her advisors' railroading tactics: she knew that men like Walsingham and Burleigh had taken this action because they didn't want to give the ever-compassionate Elizabeth time to change her mind.

Explain the reasons for the Spanish Armada's defeat in 1588.

The English navy proved superior and more seaworthy than the Spanish: Elizabeth had taken pains to build up her navy over the course of her reign, and now her efforts paid off. The English ships, though not really any smaller than the Spanish ships, were more maneuverable. Using the new technique of "broadsiding" (facing the enemy with the side of the ship rather than the front, thus increasing the number of guns that could be aimed and fired at any one time), the English severely hurt the Spanish fleet. Sir Francis Drake's attack at Cadiz on the not-yet-launched Armada also constituted a decisive blow. Although England was aided by fortuitous winds, the effect of the so-called "Protestant Wind" is generally exaggerated: England's navy had already won decisively. Of the 30,000 Spanish troops sent to England, only 10,000 ever made it home.

Describe the conflict over theater in Elizabethan London.

While commoners loved theater, the puritanical middle class considered theater ungodly, arguing that theater encouraged absenteeism from church, and that the violence and obscenity seen on the stage encouraged misbehavior among the population, leading to a general "loosening of the morals." Elizabeth (and most of the aristocracy) loved theater, however. Elizabeth often invited theater companies to perform in her palaces. Due to this, she wanted the stage companies to be in practice, and this required that the theaters stay open. Thus, Elizabeth's influence overturned the Mayor of London's desire to shut down the theaters. It was for these theaters, kept open by Elizabeth's intervention, that Marlowe and Shakespeare wrote their great plays.

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